Jamie Anderson has always refused to settle for “good enough” in any aspect of his work.
It’s an ethic that was instilled in him growing up as a Coast Guard kid living all over the U.S, and was further reinforced during his studies in Technical Design and Production at Yale’s School of Drama.
“I was finishing something off in the scenic shop at Yale and I’d bent a nail over, or something, and a guy I worked with came over and said, ‘are you just going to leave that?’ I said it doesn’t matter.
And he said, ‘Yeah, it does. People will be fine with mediocrity, but it’s up to you to arbitrarily raise your level to continually make things better.”
It’s a point that stuck, informing many of Anderson’s career choices and a prime driver for founding Rational Acoustics with his wife Karen, as well as Adam Black and Calvert Dayton, in 2008.
Although Anderson knew that following in his father’s footsteps in the Coast Guard wasn’t for him, being “raised on tour” helped foster an interest in travel and an understanding of the wealth of experience that could be gained from meeting people from diverse places, cultures and upbringings. And it ultimately led him to a career in the entertainment industry.
From the age of 15, he worked summer theatre, gravitating initially toward lighting design – sound, not as highly developed a discipline as lighting at the time, interested him less.
Eventually, however, he would come to view sound reinforcement as a field that was exciting both because it was maturing before his eyes, and because it would allow him to indulge his passion for mathematics and physics.
After high school, Anderson studied electrical engineering and optical physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, occasionally working as local crew at Worcester’s Centrum Arena – a gig Anderson got far more out of than just a bit of extra beer money.
After loading the Grateful Dead into the Centrum for a show in the mid- 1980s, a friend convinced engineers Don Pearson and Dan Healy to give he and
Anderson a tour of the band’s system. “I was expecting hippies saying, you know, ‘sound is round’ and ‘don’t let it get all purple on you, or pointy,’ but Dan started off with ‘O.K., who here knows what a Helmholtz Radiator is?’”
Anderson recalls being struck as much by Healy and Pearson “busting out the physics” as he was by the look of the gear they were working with. “You have to remember what the Ultrasound mix position looked like – all of the cases were made of hardwood.
The cable ties were leather strips. It was elegant. We’d loaded in so many groups and tours, but these guys really cared about the details.”
He was also struck by the B&K dualchannel FFT analyzers used to tune the system, something that would later prompt what he describes as a “delayed Eureka moment.”